The terror attacks that took place on Highway 60 near Ofra this week demand examination on both the tactical and strategic level.
From a tactical perspective, we must urgently focus on the question as to what elements of defense are required to secure the settlements and the traffic on the roads. From a strategic perspective, the Israeli government and Israeli society must re-examine the fundamental yet controversial question: “What are we doing there?”
As far as the tactical security response is concerned, the Israel Defense Forces and the security forces must find appropriate solutions. Strategically speaking, an Israeli leadership is required that will examine the national interests that guide Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria.
It would be wise to return to the fundamental conventions that guided Israel’s leaders up until the turning point of the 1993 Oslo Accords. In the late Israeli statesman Moshe Dayan’s final book, Breakthrough: A Personal Account of the Egypt-Israel Peace Negotiations, for example, he determined that “for Israel’s security, there should be Jewish civilian settlement in these areas. If our military units and their installations are found among a pure Arab population, we will be considered foreign occupiers and ultimately be forced to evacuate them. It is only if we have a civilian Jewish population in the large blocs, like the Jordan Valley, Gush Etzion and the Samaria mountain ridge, that the IDF will be able to be found in these areas not as foreign occupiers but for the purpose of ensuring peace for Israel, whose dense population is concentrated in a narrow area on the Mediterranean coast.”
It is forever necessary to have a grip there not only out of a connection to the patrimony but because the narrow coastal strip does not have the necessary conditions to ensure the State of Israel’s defense. Advocates of withdrawal in the name of the need to “separate from the Palestinians” claim that just because the IDF currently needs to continue to act in the area out of security concerns, that does not mean we need to maintain and bolster an Israeli civilian presence there.
The answer is simple: Without the expansive Jewish settlements currently in place in Judea and Samaria, the IDF would be hard-pressed to stay in the area and effectively carry out its military role.
The achievements of “Operation Protective Shield” in the spring of 2002 also came to fruition only as a result of the constant efforts made in the years following the operation, when Israeli communities in the Nablus region served as a protected exit point for periodic operations inside Nablus. While the IDF does operate there to protect the settlers, through its actions, it is defending Israel’s coastal strip and the Dan region.
Israel’s attitude towards its presence in a temporary space—an attitude that has us waiting for an agreement and eventual withdrawal—is what gives hope to terrorism. By strengthening the settlements, we send a message that we are here to stay. The State of Israel will be recognized as a strong wall that the area’s residents should cooperate with and be supported by.
Maj. Gen. (res.) Gershon Hacohen is a senior research fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.